Music education in the Chinese school system has for a long time placed much importance on rote learning and examinations, but this may be about to change. According to a paper by Hao Zhang, an academic at the Sichuan University of Arts and Science, a shift in thinking in school teaching is instead prioritising what he describes as ‘aesthetic values’ and the need to promote developmental type learning in young students. A new priority, he says, is moving towards aesthetic appeal, emotion and the engagement of children in their musical experiences.
Hao Zhang’s paper, titled ‘Aesthetic Education of Vocal Music Teaching in Music Education’ and published in Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, describes this new paradigm.
“Music is a cultural category. To learn music culture, we must explore the aesthetic value of music culture,” he writes. “For a long time, China has implemented exam-oriented education, which has great disadvantages. Under the rigid teaching system, teachers did not aesthetically educate students, which hindered students’ healthy development.”
Ongoing reform is needed, says Hao Zhang. “Teachers must not only impart basic music knowledge to students and improve their musical quality, but also permeate aesthetic education in the classroom to promote students’ all-round development.”
So, in addition to introducing students to basic music knowledge and literacy, he says teachers also need to “cultivate students’ creative thinking and guide students in artistic creation”. Doing this “can enrich students’ emotional awareness and allow them to discover beauty and feel beauty”.
Hao Zhang’s article, which primarily addresses vocal music teaching in Chinese schools, advocates a more student-centred approach that is founded on interaction in the classroom, makes musical experiences personally rewarding, and fosters a “friendly relationship between students and teachers”.
However, he says a lot more work needs to be done before these goals are reached. “It must be noted that many teachers in music education are still constrained in exam-oriented education and take themselves as the center. These teachers instill students with theories in class, which enables students to passively accept music knowledge, which greatly suppress students’ interests in learning.”
Some useful background on how music is presently taught in Chinese schools is presented by Elizabeth Sinclair in a paper for the Monterey Institute of International Studies, California. She explains that children are given a total of nine years of music education in their schooling, beginning with three weekly lessons of ‘music games’ in their first two years. Then teaching moves onto “feelings, musical forms, and structures, in addition to instrumental performance”. In the last three years, children receive one weekly lesson of music appreciation but do less singing, owing to the fact that boys’ voices break at this age.
The solfège system and Western staff notation have been employed there since the 1980s, she says.
Sinclair also observes that primary school students are required to learn “a simple instrument, such as the recorder or mouth organ”, and that in the secondary years those students who are sufficiently interested can choose to take up a second instrument. Specialised music teachers see the children “about twice a week on average, with their regular classroom teachers continuing to implement activities initiated by the music teachers throughout the week”.
The level of teacher training in music in China appears to be strong. Sinclair says nursery school teachers there “are also well-trained in music, so many children enter their compulsory education years with a few years’ experience in group singing and rhythm movement.”